Fit for purpose

Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz holding a kids dress made from an old AFP shirt

A new AFP initiative is tailor made to bring joy to children in need and improve relations between police and the community as well.

By Graham McBean

When former Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz signed on with the AFP she brought with her a readymade idea about what to do with her old uniforms.

Assistant Commissioner Platz had already established an initiative in Queensland to remake old police uniforms into children's clothing and then deliver them to communities in need.

Western Australia Police, Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast and other agencies cottoned on that it was a great idea and the rest, as they say, was a stitch in history.

The repurposed clothes have been delivered to migrant communities in Brisbane and to remote communities as far north as Thursday Island. Western Australia Police also has delivered clothing to remote communities.

When she took up the position as National Manager Crime Operations with the AFP, Commissioner Andrew Colvin welcomed the idea and the possibility of sending the clothes to PNG and Timor-Leste.

Debbie Platz lays out the kids clothing on a desk
AFP National Manager Crime Operations Debbie Platz knew exactly what to do with her old uniforms from the Queensland Police Service.
A female officer helps a child tie the drawstring on a skirt made from AFP uniforms
AFP Gender Advisor PNG Federal Agent Michelle Harris passes on the new clothes to a child.

There was no blinding flash of inspiration, Assistant Commissioner Platz says. "Primarily we did it because we didn't want to see things getting wasted and there were people in need so we just brought the two things together," Assistant Commissioner Platz says.

Apart from happy children who love getting the clothes, another great outcome is that the project is bringing together the police and the communities where the clothing is delivered.

"It's one of the benefits of the program," Assistant Commissioner Platz says. "It's well documented in research across the world that police can't operate in a silo. We have to integrate and work with the community. Collaboration with the community is a key element of that.

"If you do it in a procedurally just way - treating everyone with fairness and openness - the community will come forward with information that will help us solve crime eventually. But hopefully community members will deter and disrupt the crime before it happens."

Two sets of kids clothing made from old AFP uniforms
Children in remote communities are overjoyed to receive the new clothes.

The missing piece in stitching up the initiative was who would make the clothes. Turns out Assistant Commissioner Platz's mother, Yvonne Pattinson, is a lifetime dressmaker and was only too happy to turn the idea into reality.

She just enjoys making clothes and she loves helping people. She has a couple of people who help her sew and it just sort of went from there. The more people hear about it the more people want to be involved."

The project was featured on regional television in Queensland and even more people came forward to help with the sewing. Assistant Commissioner Platz says it really inspired communities to get involved.

"In Brisbane, the migrants all got together and decided they wanted to be taught to sew. So we have organised some training for them so they can make outfits for the children as well - particularly the women who are at home and socially isolated after they move here."

Assistant Commissioner Platz is presently working with AFP logistics support to work out where AFP members can drop their old uniforms at designated locations around Australia.  

Once the uniforms have been transformed into their new lives they will be returned to locations who want to use them or they will be posted directly to international locations.

"I can contact the officers at various international posts tell them about the program and see who wants them and see who can use them and we will just post them to wherever they need to go."

Debbie Platz with two sets of kids clothing made from old AFP uniforms
National Manager Crime Operations Debbie Platz first established the initiative while with Queensland Police.

Meanwhile, negotiations are in process to find a courier service to ship the clothes pro bono to where they are needed. Assistant Commissioner Platz also is interested in hearing from AFP members can contribute to the initiative by making the uniforms or donating accessories such as elastic, buttons, ribbons and material.

"If they know of a community that can use the repurposed uniforms then they should let me know and we can start sending out the outfits and instead of destroying the uniforms, particularly the ones that are in reasonable quality to distribute them to me so I can get them repurposed."

Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner Platz is continuing the initiative on the smaller scale.

"Every time I go to Queensland I don't take any luggage with me and take a suitcase full of uniforms instead. It's easier when they come back because they are much smaller."

A clothes rack holding kids clothing
Off the rack: old police uniforms never looked so good!

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